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Posts Tagged ‘ Erin Go Bragh ’

Hibernian-The Lost Connection

Hibernian football club, founded in 1875, is a very unique football club whose inception as a club tells a tale of how two communities, from different countries, came to grow into one.

The origins of the Hibees interested the Edinburgh natives and indeed natives of Leith, the suburb in which they boast their famous Easter Road stadium. However the beginnings of Hibernian owe their roots to Ireland and its emigrants who settled in the Cowgate area of the city in the 1800s.The club, whose name reflects a common association with Ireland, is very much a reward for all associated with the successful integration of Irish people into the Scottish capital. 

During the 1800s a large number of Irish left home for Scotland, with the majority preferring to locate themselves in Glasgow and only a handful moving to Edinburgh. The Cowgate would become known as “Little Ireland”, as statistics in 1821 proved that 12 000 Irish were resident there. The area was well deprived and run down, it was home to some of the poorest slums in the world. While work was not widely available, most Irish opted to join the Scottish army, but a handful set about installing a belief of community in a different manner.

The St Patrick’s Church in Cowgate had founded a Catholic Youth Mens Society(CYMS) in 1865.The Irish community was not integrated into the wider Edinburgh community, but Canon Edward Hannon was looking for a way to achieve this. Michael Whelehan, an emigrant from Roscommon suggested to Canon Hannon that the CYMS should form its own football club. In a meeting on 6 August 1875, Hibernians was founded, with Canon Hannon as its first manager and Whelahan as its first captain. They adopted the harp as the official club crest and decided on a motto to unite all, Erin Go Bragh (Ireland Forever). .

The club struggled to achieve league status, after appealing to the Scottish Football Association they were told that the FA were catering for Scotsmen and not Irishmen. Fierce rivals Hearts did Hibs a favour in 1875 by playing them, despite the fact that the FA had said no club should play “the Irish club”. This further boosted Hibs chances of joining the league.At the outset only members of CYMS could play for Hibs but the club folded in 1891, when they reformed a year later this policy changed and they dropped the S in their name. The Irish immigrants now had the heart within their community, and a heart that would allow for greater integration with their Scottish counterparts.

The club model adopted by Hannan and Whelehan was followed by Irish emigrants in the cities of Dundee and Glasgow, with the foundation of Dundee Harp (1879),Glasgow Celtic (1888) and Dundee Hibernian(1909-later became known as Dundee United)
All the clubs boasted some resemblance to the Hibees.  Fast forward to the modern day and the green hooped jersey is what many attribute to Celtic; however it was Hibs who originally wore the jersey first. Likewise the Edinburgh club were originally known as The Bhoys, a modern day nickname for the Parkhead club. Likewise the Dundee clubs both adopted the green, a colour best associated with Ireland but when Dundee Hibernian became Dundee United in 1923 they dropped the green jersey.

Into 2009 and things are quite different, as they have been for decades. Celtic are now the best supported team in Ireland and Hibs don’t boast much of a following on the green isle. Hibs are not seen today as being an Irish or Roman Catholic institution as it was in the early years of its history. For instance, the Irish harp was only re-introduced to the club badge when it was last re-designed in 2000. This design reflects the three pillars of the club’s identity -Ireland, Edinburgh (the castle) and Leith (the ship). Geography rather than religion is now seen as the primary reason for supporting Hibs, [who draw most of their support from the north and east of Edinburgh.

Is it Hibs fault that they are not as popular here? Celtic are seen as the team to follow, if your Catholic or Irish it is most probable that you are a Celt, such are the Irish links with the club. In a similar manner by which Hibs boast a harp on their crest, Celtic boast a shamrock, another traditional symbol associated with Ireland, on theirs.

Celtic are the club that have always had the financial power to win league titles whereas Hibs, four time league winners, are more reliant on their youth academy to produce players. While Hibs have a very successful youth structure, they are getting ever closer to Celtic as the money men in Scottish football are not putting the money in any longer. Indeed all Scottish clubs will be soon be operating off a similar level to the Old Firm, as Both Celtic and Rangers are suffering in the current economic climate.
Is it arguable that Hibs, who were seen as the first sectarian club, have lost their Irish fanbase to Celtic by dropping their somewhat sectarian stance? It is a valid point to ponder. Religion plays an important role in Scottish football, just ask any Celtic or Rangers fan and thus it gives rise to sectarianism abuse, something the Edinburgh club does not want to be associated with. Their desire to be far removed from the realms of sectarianism has seen their fanbase in Ireland decline, but it has left them with a solid reputation as a pure football fraternity.

Perhaps its Celtic`s very successful marketing machine and indeed their success on the pitch, that has seen their vast fan base grow. There is no obvious reason as to why the popularity of the Glasgow club is much bigger than their Edinburgh counterparts, who paved the way for their foundation.  Hibs were regularly invited to play in Glasgow before Celtic were founded by brother Walfred, who founded the Parkhead based club in 1888.He founded Celtic with the belief that Glasgow’s  large Irish population could lead to a similar success story and he was right. John Glass was the clubs financial backer at the time and he initiated a degree of professionalism in Scottish football by enticing Hibs players to Celtic with the offer of lucrative wages. This severely affected the Hibees who went into major decline, while the Celts won four league titles during the 1890s.   

Will the Hibees evergreen contingent of  Liam Miller, Graham Stack and young hitman  Kurtis Byrne help Irish fans rediscover their long lost connection with the Edinburgh Club?
Is originality not the essence of our support? Irregardless as to whether it is or not, the Irish people who support football in Scotland should give the Hibees more consideration when deciding who to follow.

By Glenn Dowd

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